Thursday, November 16, 2006

Trouble at flaca

Even the seductive qualities of vodka and lychee juice can't keep me at the ICA's opening of Alien Nation tonight - well, ok, that's a lie - I quickly knock down a couple straight off, but I'm really not staying. I've been round some of the show already and been blown away by Hew Locke's bright, shiny, trashy, cheap toy laden spaceships in the upper galleries, acting as some glorious counterpoint to the quiet, rhythmic, ritualistic films of Ellen Gallagher and - well, look, no more, I'm off. I've been thinking all day about whether to stay here tonight or venture off and I finally make the decision, luckily, just before the vodkas pull up a chair and tie me in with a couple of ropes made from old sheets, laughing and cackling at my abject lack of will, winking at each other and pouring themselves down my throat...
I'm going east end tonight towards Modern Art and flaca, looking for something a little bit more - what? I'm not sure at this point but I figure I'll know it when I see it.
Up Vyner Street then and to Ricky Swallow at Modern Art. The Swallow has been up to some more wood carving. Small pieces on the walls, a couple on the floor. I get particularly taken by one piece, lying on the floor, around which people are standing and looking down at. It's a skull, lying on its side, with what I take to be some sort of fungus growing out of it. I don't why, but I really like this. It seems mysterious and obvious at the same time. I look at it for a bit. The finish on it isn't like his previous stuff, it's a bit rougher, a little less finished. It makes it seem more like a crafted piece.
I'm thinking about the skull and heading off out when I bump into the lovely Francesca Gavin. She is there with a guy called James Lambert. She starts talking about blokes who sleep with lots of girls and get away with it, and metaphorically leans an elbow against a bar to steady herself for what looks like a long tirade. As she continues, and as we near the end of the year, my mind turns, of course, to the all important Russell Herron's - a prizegiving event, honouring achievements in the artworld, very much like the Turner Prize, only done a bit more on the cheap, not on at the Tate, with no media coverage and with nominations provided by a totally subjective panel of myself spread across whatever damn categories I please. Doesn't that sound great? Wouldn't you want a Russell Herron on your mantlepiece?
Anyway, one very important award, and one I think a number of people would be delighted to receive, is The Russell Herron for Most Viewed Photo in This Blog. And currently holding top position, and this is where I hove back into view of the conversation, is the lovely Francesca herself. I had assumed she had simply just been clicking repeatedly, endlessly, on her own photo (you know how people are...), but she swears she only looked at it maybe a handful of times (well, maybe, you know, a few times...). Anyway, whatever, her photo is well popular. Maybe because she looks a bit hot in it and a bit naked??
You can click to see it HERE, and, at the same time, help her win that prize! Go on, show the girl your support!!
I tell her I'm heading up to flaca, and she tells me she's heading down to the VICE party. See you later, I think. When you collect your award...
I get to flaca, duck downstairs, get a beer and immediately see and say hello to the lovely Oona Culley. I don't see her around much but I do like her work. She does some really sensitive and subtle work about perception and memory and absences. Very nice work indeed: click HERE for her website. Oona is also quite a sensitive and subtle person herself and I'm not sure she'll appreciate it if I ask for a photo of her. I ask. She's not sure. Will it go on your website? she asks. Well, yes, I say, pointing out that if I was taking her photo without the intention of publishing it here then that would be a little bit even more weird and She agreeds with this but disagrees about having her photo done. Luckily we can compromise and I get a photo of her hand holding a beer.
John Hayward has been phoning me a couple of times today to try and arrange to meet but it has been such a crazy day I never got back to him to firm things up, but never mind because here he is now with a guy called Neil Taylor who runs Campbell Works. We all talk about wood carving, skulls and barnacles (ah, I think, it wasn't fungus, it was barnacles - so instead of this skull speaking to me of damp forest floors it is actually whispering about the sea, about loss, about the deep blue mysterious ocean...ah, I think, yes, indeed...) and John and Neil aren't convinced about Ricky. Or are they? It's one of the conversations about art where I can't even start to understand what anyone (including myself) is saying...are we agreeing, disagreeing, or about to have a fight? Whatever, we move on eventually. Neil tells me a little about Campbell Works and a magazine/newspaper he produces called 'ArtInit.'
I go to the bar to get a drink. It's being run by a guy called Douglas who I've seen here before. I take his photo. He's an odd one. He works lots of private view bars around London - a lot of the fancy ones.
I get a beer and chat some more to some more people. I see Tom who runs flaca and say hi to him. He is talking to another guy who seems very intense, hunched over in deep conversation. Something's odd, but I can't quite put my finger on it. But hey, he's talking to Tom and Tom seems ok, so he must be ok too. Right?
The guy gives me a big hug, stands holding my arm, stands far too close.
'You're,' I say.
'Just sharin' the love, man,' he grins...
He sees my camera and insists on taking a photo of me and Tom. He's pleased with the shot. For no reason that I can fathom he then starts shouting 'Oi! Oi! Saveloy!' He shouts this some more. Then he's off after someone else.
I go upstairs with Tom. 'Who is that geezer?' I ask.
Tom gives me a look, fixes me with his eyes, trying, in that one look, to communicate much, much more than he could by simply saying what he says:
'Oh, he's a local.'
'Yes,' continues Tom, 'he's been here before, smashed up some of the work.'
Tom disappears into the toilet, maybe for the rest of the night..
Our friendly local is coming up the stairs, reaching for the volume on some kind of music player. I think this might be a work, but I'm not sure.
I take his photo, above. He no longer looks like he wants to share the love with me.
I quickly decide it might be time to leave...
I look around for a press release to take off with and pass by a scrappy piece of paper stuck to the wall on which someone has written 'I once dreamt that someone was offering me a cornetto. I woke up with my right arm outstretched.'
I reckon I know who's work this is, but I figure I can confirm it at some later date...
The next day I email Tom because I didn't find any info to pick up and ask if he can forward a press release.
He replies that there wasn't one for the show. 'Bad Gallerist!' he writes.
Well, whatever, but it's exactly why I like flaca so much. Tom set out there to do what he wanted to do and explore the things he wanted to explore. It's based on his passion and enthusiasm and the sheer damn joy of looking and curating and thinking about art and life and what on earth that all might mean. It's a surprisingly rare set of criteria. It makes flaca very much one of a kind. It's a special place and soon, I think, it will disappear...
I came away from that night feeling like I had just escaped from an imminent fight. I also saw some work that made me think about what art was again. The piece about the cornetto was by Clunie Reid, who is doing some really interesting stuff at the moment, and wants, I think, to try and understand what it is to look at art again - heck, look at anything again - here, now at the end of 2006.
But what do I know?
I went out eastside looking for something.
And I pretty nearly found it.

saveloy pics

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Return of Georgina Starr, or, Theda

There's a real sense of occasion about the Artprojx premiere of Georgina Starr's film Theda, which is receiving it's one off debut at the Prince Charles cinema in Leicester Square. As Giorgio and I turn into the square there are crowds of people, crash barriers, paparazzi, searchlights, men in sharp suits - oh, no, wait a minute: this is the premiere of the new James Bond film.
We skirt round the 007 crowds and up the side street to the Prince Charles. There are film posters outside and the hoading up above the cinema has THEDA by GEORGINA STARR in blissfully huge letters, which I love. ('You would,' says Sara Preibsch who I sit next to in the screening).
Missing in action some time ago (at least in London and to my notes), tonight is the return of Georgina Starr, coming back with a sold out screening of her new film work. There's a lot of faces around: artists, dealers, gallerists, writers, hopefuls, even a lonely is, like I said, an occasion.
The work is accompanied, as every silent film should be, by a live band. Tonight is the London Improvisers Orchestra. And tonight will be the first time they have seen the film, undoubtedly putting a bit of pressure and excitement into their playing.
The lights go down, the curtain parts, the film begins.
The word THEDA appears in white on a black screen, followed by the word Prelude. Georgina's face appears in black and white. It's that face I recognise from her previous works: part beautiful woman, part little girl, part street urchin, part cute ventriloquist's dummy. It is truly a great face. The band shimmy about with a bit of clomping and parping. What's she gonna do? What's going on? She's has panda eye silent film make up. She starts pulling faces - no, expressions. Slowly, precisely, she goes through a whole repetoire of expressions, culled, I shouldn't wonder, from a selecton of silent films. She's awestruck, frightened, overcome, angry, afraid, terrorised, saddened, maddened, amazed...she gently moves from one state to another, letting each emotion have its time, its peak, and then moves on...
Eventually, this fades to black and the screen presents the word ACT.
What follows, as I take it, is a sort of story made up from various scenes that Theda Bara is known to have played but which are no longer extant (according to the press blurb some of the film stock spontaneously combusted). The 'story', therefore, goes a little like this:
Theda/Starr is a sort of medium, weirdly dressed in a bizarre headress (above) who is visited by a female client (also Starr). The medium goes into spasm, turns a misty green (a curious and surprising effect in a black and white film - and the only time a colour appears in the whole piece) then slumps over. Cut to a picture of a sphinx and Theda/Starr on its feet, looking up at a sort of crystal ball in which she herself is fighting some invisible demons. Then to London. A gentleman, who'll we learn is called Ronaldo Wright, with moustache and large pipe, appears. He too is played, naturally, by Georgina. He stops in his perambulation along the street to examine a poster advertising a performance by a sapphic Theda (called something like CleoSaloSappho...). Clearly excited by this he hurries off to the theatre. As he leaves we focus on the poster for a while longer and watch as the letters of Theda's name rearrange themselves to spell DEATH....
Ronaldo/Starr watches Theda/Starr perform a bewildering range of bizarre dances, all the while drawing her in a succession of detailed pencil sketches. She dances with a dead mans head; in egyptian costume; I think there's even a dance of the seven veils in there somewhere...
After the performance(s) Ronaldo/Starr sends her a note, asking if she would pose for a sculpture. She arrives at his studio. A lengthy series of shots then show the scupltor, Ronaldo/Starr, wrestling with the clay, fashioning appalling lumps and bumps of scuplture, like Rebecca Warren on acid. Somehow, later, the sculpture is revealed to us - and a horrified Theda/Starr - as a double portrait of her standing back to back with herself. One the one side the young and beautiful her, on the other a wizened and deathly looking version. The work is called The Allegory of Vanity. During the night a cat burglar (complete with whiskers, no less) creeps in through the skylight and knocks the sculpture over, smashing it. Ronaldo returns the next morning to find it in pieces and, gathering them up, sits at the table, lamenting and raging at the gods, fuelling his despair with plentiful gulps of absinthe until, inevitably, he passes out, the pieces of the sculpture lying around him. Finally we see a vision of Theda/Starr prone over a supine skeleton. She leans forward and seems to kiss the skull's nonexistent lips.
Then follows: EPILOGUE.
A women is speaking to camera, but, of course, her words are silent and indecipherable and the quality of the film renders her almost invisible beneath the scratches and the age of the stock, which, after a short while completely falls apart and burns away.
We all give a big round of applause. There are some cheers and some whistles.
Georgina, with a sweeping flash of blonde hair, stands up from the audience and takes a shy bow, turns and applauds the musicians.
We all leave.
The press blurb says that the film questions 'ideas of loss and neglect within all art forms. Looking at deception and pretence within both art and acting; the mythologising of artworks, performers and stars; the lure of vanity and obssession with possesing artists and art; and finally confronting mortality, ownership and ultimately destruction and death.'
I think they pretty much have it covered. After all, that's a pretty good checklist for any artwork to stand up against.
I was thinking about memory and loss though. And difficulties in communication.
No one makes silent films now. But we've all just sat thru one and watched as Georgina performed a range of emotions for us. Was she communicating those emotions? Or was she practising communicating? How do we communicate those emotions? So often in life the real emotions decend upon us without any chance for rehearsal. We can often make mistakes. But here she is, showing how to do them. And it's all being subtly subverted by the musicians, who are also scrutinising the expressions in order to provide fitting accompaniment. It's safe to say that their interpretation didn't always fit with mine. We couldn't agree. We were all looking at Georgina but we were all seeing something slightly different.
We couldn't reach agreement on the middle of the piece, either, the ACT. The story was like a series of vignettes, strung together by Theda's presence within them. They were like fragments of memories tied together for the purpose of understanding. While the press info says that this shouldn't be seen as a film about Theda, it neglects to say that this could be seen as a film about Georgina. Or rather about Georgina's 'memory' of Theda. It's rare to spend time on something that you don't, on some level, fall a little in love with, or empathise with, become protector and champion of. And Georgina must have a done a big piece of research into Theda and her life to arrive at where she is now. She has rescued her from the rotting films and history books, and she has rescued a part of herself too. I wonder: who will do that for us? Who will represent us in 90 years time? Keep us from the dark corners of history, quietly self combusting? What fragments will we leave behind?
That last decaying piece of film at the end. Was that Theda? Or was that Georgina again? It was hard to tell. Hard to tell not only what that woman was saying, but who indeed, she was. A scratched, fading, literally decaying image of a silent figure, talking but not being heard. A memory, but not a very good or clear one.
And then, suddenly, she is burned away.
Theda, or Georgina, is gone.
But not, now, forgotten.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Finissage

John Hayward invites me to a show he has put on. It’s in a derelict house on some of his land. Or is it rented? I can’t tell. Either way, it’s pretty creepy. I’m wandering round corridors and rooms that look like they haven’t been inhabited for some time. There’s a sort of party going on in one room, but it looks a bit dodgy. There's a bunch of blokes jostling each other about in a way that suggests that real violence is only the flick of a knife away.
I go further down the corridor, into another room, looking for the toilet. The room is huge and as I walk across the floor I suddenly feel a hand touch my face. This isn’t as frightening as it sounds, given how spooked I already feel. I look up and see a small girl looking down at me thru the ceiling, her hand still resting on my cheek.
I lift up my arms and bring her down through the hole. I carry her under my arm, her hands around my neck. Her name is Maryam.
I think the room with the party going on has kicked off finally into a fight and I feel very protective towards Maryam. Later, as the sun is rising her name turns out to be Lisudysani. I hand her over to what I assume are her parents and check my watch. It’s 11.30am. The whole night has just disappeared. And now I’m late for a meeting that was scheduled for 11.00am. I can’t believe I’ve messed up like this!
Why didn't I check the time earlier?
Then I wake up.
In the evening I go to Andrew Mummery's for a low key little event which is Warren Neidich's finissage, his drinks party to close his show.
I shake his hand, get a glass of wine, as many canapes as I can hold in one hand and wander the show.
Warren has put up some photos from a series of works called Earthling (1 and 2). I like these. I don't quite understand what they are on about but they are easy to like because they look quite funny and quirky. In each photo there is always someone holding a magazine or newspaper up to their face so that one of their eyes can peer through a hole cut in the picture on the page where someone else's eye should be (above). It's like animating a face.
There's more to it than that - you know what Warren's like - but I like them just the same. The magazines and newspapers come from different times and countries, clearly at odds with the surroundings in which the readers are placed. It's like he is mixing up history and place and understanding. Are the people in these photos looking out, or are the images on the magazines themselves looking out?
I glance at the press blurb: 'Apparatic Unconscious', 'a fetishistic network of becoming', 'a narrative that is not really a narrative', 'diachronic, Eurocentric pictorial iconography', uh huh, yes, yes, hm, hm, yep, that sounds like Warren alright.
Mathieu Copeland is there. I say that I seem to be going thru a phase of him recently. Wherever I go, he is there. 'Most likely,' he says, 'we are the only people who go out on a Monday...'
He could be right.
Also on show in the gallery tonight are some works by Alexis Harding. He does paintings that fall off the canvas and end up on the floor. I've seen his work in reproduction but never in the flesh, never actually falling off the canvas.
I think these are interesting works because they seem to be throwing their hands up in despair at painting. What can you do, they seem to be saying, what can you do?
It's all gonnna end up on the floor, whatever happens.
I wonder if any of his works cling to the canvas long enough to make it into someone's private collection? That'll look great in your posh living room, sticking like toffee in your nice posh carpet...
I take a couple more canapes and say thanks to Warren and head off.
La finissage is finished for me.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Bird, Horse or Muffin?

Dan leans over and whispers:
'You can tell it's an art crowd: there's someone behind me doing their knitting.'
I look over his shoulder at the table behind and, yes, sure enough, there's a girl sitting there with her mates doing some knitting.
So, definitely an art crowd. Which isn't surprising seeing as we are at one of Rational Rec's art quiz nights at The Bethnal Green Working Men's Club. I have managed to gather together a few people from the ICA to come along and pit our collective wits. In fact, I've been so successful in getting these volunteers that we actually have two teams. Twice the chance of winning!!!
But before the quiz starts, it's time for music from The Mixed Up Insects, who play a mashed up/mixed up version of (I think, but could be totally wrong) The Police's Message in a Bottle - it's pretty diabolical at first but actually ends up quite interesting, as layers of other songs drift in and out. I'm pleasantly surprised. Some of the others in the team, however, look as though they are in physical pain.
Quiz master for the night is Richard 'one-man subversive-think-tank-primarily-dedicated-to-the-development-and-implementation-of-innovative-strategies-designed-to-undermine-accepted-belief-systems-and-topple-existing-power-structures' Dedomenici, standing up on stage with a mic and a set of fiendish questions.
Yeah, those questions...
I mean, how do you answer this:
Dedomenici: 'What artist am I thinking of?' Slight pause. 'Right, next question.'
I mean, how the hell?
The answer turned out, eventually, to be Picasso - and we had a narrow miss: Catrin from the ICA had threatened to come along and drunkenly shout out 'Picasso' to every question...if only she had followed through on this, she could have bagged at least one point.
Then a question about a novelist - I don't remember who - and the poser: is a particular novel of theirs a bird, horse or muffin?
Eh? Does anyone know what this is about?
By this time I'm beginning to think that there are no answers to any of these questions at all, but change my mind when I nail one with the correct 'Bo Derek and Dudley Moore in 10.'
Where did that come from?
This is not the sort of art quiz I was expecting. I'd stayed up the whole night reading the Art Since 1900 cover to cover. Pah! What a waste!
Anyway, it goes on, with the later questions being set by Dedomenici himself. So a particular thanks to him for such easy ones as 'What is the range of the guns on HMS Belfast?'
For future reference, fact lovers, it's 23 miles...
Art schmart quiz, I think to myself.
We get to the end and pass our question papers to the next table.
As the answers are read out I let out a sharp, breathy 'YES!' in the hope that everyone will think we got loads right...
But unfortunately we didn't get loads right.
Our team got five and half. Our other team got nine.
The winning team, behind us, got twenty four.
How the hell did they do that?
I look across at them.
Ah yes...
Next time I'm bringing my fucking knitting.